Countdown to High School Graduation:
Preparing High School Seniors for Young Adulthood
By Dr. James G. Wellborn
Senior year. EVERYONE is counting down the days to graduation; teenagers, parents, teachers, school administrators, the local police. Finally, your kid can enter the phase psychologist Jeffrey Arnett calls emerging adulthood; a time of life marked by career training, partial independence, and lack of long term responsibilities. (It is followed, all too frequently, by a phase parents call HORIFYING when adult children return home to live.) But, before you launch (or toss) your kids into this next phase, it is worth reviewing a few of the things your kid needs to know to be a successful emerging adult.
Money management. Your high school senior needs to know just how far a dollar goes (and how to stop there). Are they regularly asking for extra money? Do they take for granted that you are going to cover their expenses? Do they overdraft their checking account? Do they put money in savings? If you are still paying for things, consider making it a monthly allowance and require THEM to make the payments on luxuries like cell phones, gasoline and online video game memberships (and put some of it in savings).
Communal living skills. Your kid is about to share a living space with people other than family. (Finally, all those years of assigning them chores will pay off. Yeah right!) Do they pick up after themselves? Do they finish chores without being nagged? Do they keep their living space relatively sanitary (if not necessarily neat)? If not it’s time to discuss being considerate of others (i.e., you are not a child any more), personal accountability (i.e., people shouldn’t have to remind you over and over), and personal responsibility (i.e., I am not your maid) with your kid. It’s also time for them do their own laundry.
Keeping their own schedule. Soon, your kid will need to completely manage their own appointment calendar. Do they get up on time for school? Do they keep appointments? Do they remember school assignments and exams? Have them use that damnable cell phone to remember their own appointments and fulfill obligations. If something falls through the cracks, sit down with them to review how it happened. Have them modify the plan and try it again and again and again until it works.
Life skills. Your kid will need to speak for themselves, stand up for themselves, and play well with others without your help. Do they know how to greet people? Can they express their frustration in appropriate ways? Can they work with people they don’t particularly like? Do they resist social pressure? Do they encourage others? If not, back up and review. Require them to practice on you.
Independence (aka, the opportunity to screw up). By senior year, your kid needs to practice establishing some of their own boundaries. Younger teens are told what to do (“Be home by 12 so that you can get your sleep.”). Older teenagers should increasingly decide for themselves (“What time are you going to be home tonight?”). BUT! While they identify their own limits, you will make them think it through. It has to be reasonable and you will hold them to the limit they set. “You said you would be home by 2 and its 2:30. You’re grounded”. If it’s risky, they have to make the case they can handle it responsibly. If they go too far freedom is curtailed. Then have them try again.
Self-discipline. The most important predictor of success in adulthood is the ability to put off immediate desires for long term goals. Does your kid pass on fun things to complete assignments? Do they follow through on commitments no matter what? Do they recognize when they are letting things slide? Talk directly with them about the importance of self-discipline. Require them to keep commitments, especially when they interfere with something fun.
Decision making. Pay close attention to how your kid makes good decisions. Do they weigh the long term consequences? Do they accurately assess potential risks? Do they put more weight on reason (rather than emotions) in making decisions? Do they seek out and take advice? Help them think all the way through the potential outcomes of different options, both the desirable and the undesirable. When their decisions turn out to be bad one, sit down with them and review how they might have anticipated it (and how they might do it differently the next time).
Living with integrity. Are your kid’s actions guided by a set of strongly held morals or values? Do they hold themselves to a high standard? Do they keep their word? Do they take responsibility for their actions? Do they respect the rights of others? Are they honest? Keep pounding away at the importance of living a moral life.
Seniors need the opportunity for freedom, responsibility, personal accountability and learning from mistakes if they are going to be ready for young adulthood. Communication is especially crucial during this phase to help them think for themselves. This means talking things through rather than telling them what to do. If they are demonstrating these skills already, be proud and leave things alone. If they haven’t quite mastered them, times a wastin! Take this time to help prepare them for their first run at independence when you can still offer some guidance (and protection).
This blog was originally published in www.galtime.com